Defence Against Coastal Flooding in Florida

Introduction

The state of Florida has 1,197 miles of coastline, and sand beaches cover more than 660 miles of this seashore (the State of Florida, 2017). These coastlines can be used for different purposes, and sand beaches can be public and private, as well as appropriate for recreational or residential use (Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 2015d).

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However, there are significant threats to these beaches and risks for flora and fauna, as well as for people who live near the state’s coastline because of potential coastal flooding and erosion (Hanley et al., 2014). The purpose of this research paper is to determine what solutions to the risks of coastal flooding and erosion are more appropriate in the case of Florida’s beaches while focusing on the effectiveness of beach-dune systems and man-made seawalls.

Significance of the Problem

Significant climate changes observed throughout the world allow for speaking about increased risks for coastal regions because of threats associated with rising sea levels (Kerr & Baird, 2007). The specific geographical characteristics of Florida and the length of coastline are important to be taken into consideration while analyzing the potential danger associated with coastal flooding. It is important to note that the state of Florida spans several climatic zones (U.S. Climate Data, 2017). The north and central parts of Florida are in the zone of a subtropical climate.

South Florida is in a tropical climate zone. High rainfall rates and storms are typical of this region, and they cause movements of sands, as well as increases in the sea level (Olsen Associates Inc., 2012). Scientists at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predict that ocean waters will rise at a rate that exceeds the current average in three centimeters for every ten years, and the rate at which the sea level rises is expected to accelerate because of the climate change (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, 2013). For instance, the Florida Keys and the areas along the Central Atlantic Coast and the Central Gulf Coast are most severely threatened by the rise of the sea level (Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 2017).

The problem is that recent changes in the climate have led to worsening the situation in Florida regarding the beach systems’ protection because of erosion, sand drifts, and flooding. The experts’ efforts to address the identified risks have demonstrated mixed results because much attention should be paid to analyzing the protective characteristics of each beach with the focus on dune systems. The concentration on natural dunes as the most effective way to preserve beaches in Florida along with their ecosystems should be discussed in comparison to the construction of specific seawalls which are often proposed as appropriate measures to address the problem and protect beaches.

Hypotheses

The following hypotheses or assumptions were formulated to be proved or disproved as a result of conducting the literature review on the problem:

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Although seawalls provide a high degree of protection against coastal flooding, natural beach-dune systems are more effective to guarantee the long-term ecological sustainability and coastal protection.

  1. Natural dunes are stronger defenses against coastal flooding, beach erosion, and rising sea levels.
  2. Natural dunes are the least costly way to maintain a recreational beach for current and future generations in the state of Florida.

These assumptions were taken into account while examining the existing literature on the problem of protecting coasts in Florida from the negative impacts of coastal flooding and associated erosion.

Literature Review

This section provides information regarding each coastal area in Florida to analyze the available historical and environmental data. The information regarding ecological and economic factors influencing the problem is also provided in this section. Possible solutions presented in the literature are described in detail.

Historical Data

Northeast Atlantic coast of Florida. This part of the Atlantic coast spans from the Florida-Georgia border to the Daytona Beach region in Volusia County and encompasses the Jacksonville metropolitan area. The Northeast Atlantic coast of Florida is a subtropical region, and the beach erosion in this area is impacted primarily by frequent temperate changes and tropical storms.

The entrances of the St. Mary’s River and the St. John’s River are located here, and they contribute to beach erosion (Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 2015e). This coastline is the home for marine turtles, right whales, beach mice, and shorebirds. The economics of this area is driven by recreational facilities and tourism which depend on beaches. Traditionally, beach maintenance along the Northeast Atlantic coast of Florida is based on reducing the amount of the “beach-compatible” sediment that is removed with routine dredging of several inlets along this coastline (Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 2015e). Beach erosion is managed with the help of replacing sands from upland and offshore sources.

Central Atlantic coast of Florida. The Central Atlantic coast of Florida covers the territory from Daytona Beach to Port St. Lucie in Martin County, which includes Cape Canaveral and the Indian River. This region is in a subtropical zone. Although diverse flora and fauna along the Central Atlantic coast of Florida are similar to the Northeast Atlantic coast, there are fragile reef communities in this central region. Economics of this area depends on tourism and recreational activities, as well as the work of the Cape Canaveral Space Center (Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 2015b).

However, beach erosion processes caused by specifics of the tropical weather and dredging of commercially navigated inlets influence infrastructure and facilities in this region because of many critically eroded areas. Thus, in 2014, 85,000 cubic yards of sand were stockpiled for the beach replenishment use by the Cape Canaveral Space Center (Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 2015b). In this region, beach maintenance depends on the restriction of dredging, construction of sand traps, reduction of the loss of the “beach-compatible” sediment, the replenishment of beaches with sands from upland, and offshore sources, and the implementation of dune restoration projects.

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Southeast Atlantic coast of Florida. The Southeast Atlantic coast of Florida covers the territory from Juniper County through Marin, Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties to the Florida Keys. This diverse area is the home for tropical, sub-tropical, tropical savannah, and tropical rain forest climates. The ground is composed of porous rock, and marine turtles and shorebirds inhabit these territories (Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 2015g). However, their habitats are threatened by temperate and tropical storms, as well as by seawalls intended to protect the shore.

Economics of the coast depends on tourism, commercial shipping, leisure cruising, and international commerce. Still, the active construction of new buildings affected the coastline ecosystem. To overcome beach erosion processes, experts propose the focus on dunes, the bypassing of sediments to downdrift beaches, the transfer of sand from inlet dredging to proximal beaches, and the replacement of sand from upland and offshore sources (Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 2015g).

The Florida Keys of Florida. The Florida Keys region is limited to Monroe County. The area’s climate is classified as tropical and tropical savannah. The coastline in this region includes miles of mangrove with a few small sandy beaches. Flora and fauna in Monroe County are diverse, but beach erosion processes affect them significantly. In this region, seawalls also exaggerate the natural shifting of sands (Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 2015c). Thus, sands from neighboring Miami-Dade County mines are regularly trucked to the Florida Keys and stabilized with native vegetation, including seagrasses.

Southwest Gulf Coast of Florida. This coastline spans from Collier County to Pinellas County. The area includes Marco Island where manatees and beach-nesting birds live. Least terns, snowy plovers, and American oystercatchers among others are discussed as species threatened because of changes in the climate and erosion processes. The vast number of inlets contributes to erosion along the Southwest Gulf coast (Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 2015h). The control of erosion processes is realized by replacing sand with offshore resources and saving the beach-compatible sand from inlet dredging. In the early 2000s, a geotextile groin field (a man-made sand trap) was constructed along the coast of Charlotte County to reduce drifts, but instead, it exacerbated erosion processes (Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 2015h).

Big Bend Gulf Coast of Florida. The Big Bend Gulf Coast of Florida ranges from Pasco County to Taylor County, and it is located between the Southwest Gulf coast and the Florida Panhandle. This coast is the home for the endangered West Indian manatee. As in other areas of Florida, beach erosion at these territories is caused by tropical storms and geomorphic shifting of sands, contributing to changing the landscape. Sand is usually trucked here from upland sources. However, limited municipal funding has halted the construction of erosion control structures at the Big Bend Gulf Coast of Florida (Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 2015a).

Panhandle Gulf coast of Florida. The Panhandle Gulf coast of Florida is bordered by Alabama, Georgia, and the Gulf of Mexico. Geopolitically, it spans over ten counties, from Jefferson County to Escambia County. This area is a habitat for the piping plover and the endangered Gulf sturgeon. This coast is also affected by storms and erosion from inlets. The authorities try to control erosion with the help of T-groins as structures built to trap sand or prevent beach erosion, sand fencing with native dune vegetation, seawalls, and porous net groin systems which are not cost-effective (Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 2015f).

Economic and Environmental Data

The economy of Florida is driven by the development of facilities located on beaches near the coastline. The development of this infrastructure makes Florida an ideal place for vacationing all year round. Miles of coastline allows for inviting thousands of people. Furthermore, these territories are rich in fish, and they allow for the development of the fishing industry in Florida. The climate change in the region and the active development of infrastructure at the coastline contributed to the development of the following environmental problem: over 1,000 miles of the coastline is “critically” eroded when other areas are discussed as “non-critically” eroded (Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 2015d).

As a result, thousands of houses and facilities are at risk of being damaged because of actively developing erosion processes. The problem is that the significant coastal flooding can contribute to putting about 1.5 million houses underwater. Such flooding can significantly affect Miami-Dade County where the porous limestone of South Florida prevents the construction and feasibility of seawalls. Furthermore, researchers predict such flooding during the second half of this century (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2016).

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The necessity of protecting environmental and economic resources makes experts and authorities discuss opportunities for managing Florida’s beaches, dunes, and erosion processes. Still, it is important to pay attention to differences of coastlines in Florida. For example, the beaches along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are made up primarily of quartz from the Appalachian Mountain range, whereas the sand on the Florida Keys’ beaches is made primarily of carbonate from algae and remains of the exoskeletal marine and terrestrial life (The Nature Conservancy, n.d.).

Nevertheless, the rapid erosion of sands from Florida’s beaches, whether from Panhandle or Key West, has the common etiology. At these territories, erosion is accelerated by the rise of the ocean water temperature, the shrinkage of landmasses, and the active growth of the population at coastlines, requiring housing and other infrastructure that permanently displace sand dunes.

To restore 400 miles of critically eroded beaches in Florida, the state requires hundreds of millions of dollars (Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 2015d). Therefore, the state and local authorities are interested in finding a sustainable and effective solution that can be appropriate to prevent the destruction of beaches and facilities located on them.

The problem is that previous solutions were rather costly, but not effective enough to address the issue. For instance, the 2005 T-groin project in Pinellas County covered 2400 feet of the shoreline. The cost of this system was $1.5 million (Elko & Mann, 2007). While early results were positive, the system was determined to be ineffective to prevent beach erosion, and experts even discussed it as contributing to erosion. Therefore, there is still a need for an effective solution that can be implemented in Florida to protect beaches from coastal flooding and erosion processes.

Possible Solutions

The authorities and experts working on the problem of beach erosion in Florida determined two potential solutions: the focus on nature-based solutions and dune restoration and the focus on constructing man-made seawalls. Securing dunes along coastlines throughout Florida is a priority. Researchers note that it is important, to begin with, the “critically eroded” areas (Giardino et al., 2013).

However, there are debates on how this project should be accomplished. There are only two measures proven to date to be effective in slowing or stopping beach erosion (Williams, 2007). These measures are the construction of seawalls along the coast and the planting of native vegetation along sand dunes. Innovative ideas, such as the building of groin systems or replenishing of beaches with mined sand, have not proven to be cost-effective (Giardino et al., 2013). Furthermore, some experts state that they can even contribute to erosion.

According to researchers and specialists in the field, both seawalls and dune construction with vegetation have multiple advantages and disadvantages. Overall, planting a native beach-dune with vegetation appropriate to the region is the most effective long-term form of coastline protection (Barbier, 2006). Compared to other methods of dune protection, this method is also cost-efficient. The methods that experts use now to preserve and protect beaches are stop-gap measures or seawalls. However, the problem is that seawalls can prevent the development of the ecosystem in a certain region. Besides, researchers note that their construction is a very costly process.

Some researchers also state that there is always the following option: to do nothing because of problems associated with choosing this or that method. However, actions are important to protect the biological diversity in Florida, prevent erosion processes, and prevent the destruction of houses and facilities. Beach erosion will continue and spread without developing a strong and stable coastline, landmasses will shrink, and thousands of homes will be affected (Hudson, Keating, & Pettit, 2015). Therefore, much attention should be paid to selecting the most efficient solution to address the discussed problem.

Results

Assessment of the Situation

Today, the Florida coastline is the place where numerous natural disasters, like Hurricane Matthew, influenced the lives of its citizens and the environmental situation of the region. Therefore, environmental protection is the goal that has to be achieved. In Florida, coastal armoring is the solution that is offered to people. It aims at preventing erosion, protecting eligible structures, and evaluation of harm that may be caused by coastal waves or unpredictable actions. However, the main problem is that sand is the material that is hard to hold on a beach. Therefore, it is necessary to think about the methods with the help of which it is possible to capture sand and use it for protection regarding the current state of affairs in Florida.

More than 80% of people live near the coast in Florida (Havens, 2015). Several feet above the sea level is the only natural protection that is available to people. Hurricanes, storm surge, and unpredictable weather changes are the results of climate change and global warming. Florida people can hardly influence the global climate to protect their homes and lives against increased sea levels. Still, they can take the steps with the help of which the level of protection can be significantly increased. Erosion is a regular, seasonal condition that reshapes the shoreline and demolished some constructions.

People are ready for such problems. Hurricanes do not surprise people despite the destruction that may be observed. For example, a flood that is about five feet could bring the homes of more than 1.5 million people underwater. The investigations of the representatives from Climate Central Foundation predict an increased number of floods in Florida by 2030 with 9-15% of odds without warming and 19-25% of odds caused by warming. The current situation in the state shows that local people are aware of the possible environmental, ecological, and economic problems (Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 2015d). Their task is to clarify if sand dunes or man-made systems (seawalls) can be effective for their protection.

Economy

Florida’s economy depends considerably on the activities and businesses that are developed on beaches. Millions of tourists come to Florida beaches and spend much of their time there during their winter and summer vacations. Coastlines are impressive, and the Florida government spends much time and money on the development of transport, real estate, and other areas that attract tourists. Florida beaches bring lots of money (approximately $67 billion annually) and promote the development of the sports industry. There are many appropriate places for volleyball. However, regular erosion is critical for Florida’s economy because coastal constructions are destroyed and have to be repaired. The cost of such repairs is high, and the government spends 1/3 of its incomes to improve buildings and create appropriate coastal conditions.

In addition to losses caused by environmental changes, there are certainly positive aspects of the economic situation of the region. For example, during the last ten years, unemployment rates have been dramatically decreased. In 2010, more than 1 million people were unemployed, and in 2017, this number is twice smaller (United States Department of Labor, 2017).

The growth of the economy cannot be neglected. Every year, economists and analytics are gathered to estimate the cost of harm (predictable and unpredictable) and clarify if the country’s budget can cover the losses. In the 2017-2018 fiscal year, it is predicted to observe economic growth up to 4% (“Florida’s economy still growing,” 2017). Still, these numbers are looming and can be changed in a short period due to the existing necessity to develop protective means in forms of native sand dunes or man-made seawalls. Each of the systems has its own advantages and disadvantages which can challenge the citizens of Florida and its tourists.

Effectiveness of Sand Dunes

Sand dunes introduce the systems that have to be developed on wide enough beaches the size of which can allow the storage of sand that is brought by the wind to shore. In Florida, there are many beaches in the territory of which the implementation of such systems is appropriate. Therefore, it is necessary to investigate the threats and opportunities of this type of system as the best means to protect Florida from erosion and other destructions.

Advantages. One of the main advantages of sand dunes in Florida is its natural development. These wind-formed constructions can occur in the most undeveloped coastlines where sand is found. Sand dunes introduce a barrier between water and land and protect people against immediate destruction caused by sea-level changes. Sand dune technologies have to be preserved in Florida because it is one of the most effective and cheapest ways to protect the land against erosion and flooding. Vegetation can be developed on the territory with dunes and used as the main stabilizer of natural plants in the region (Saleh & Weinstein, 2016).

Erosion is one of the main problems Florida coastlines face with. Sand dunes help to deal with this problem. When beach volumes are low, it is the period when erosion is dangerous to the land. Sand dunes can be helpful because they contain sediments with the help of which erosion forces can be reduced (Bakker et al., 2012). These sediments aim at compensating the removal of sand from beaches and maintain the size and composition with the help of which incoming wave energy can be controlled.

The positive influence of naturally created sand dunes can be promoted by effective and in-time management. Physical and tangible defense promoted by sand dunes is the possibility to encourage sustainable development of the whole region and its vulnerable coastal zones. Besides, these systems are created not by people. Therefore, the area can have as much sand and protection as it can. The restoration of natural sites is possible. Plants and animals can survive under these dunes. Finally, the government should not spend much money to promote the construction of such systems. No technological interruption is required if the state chooses this form of protection against natural disasters.

Disadvantages. However, regarding all positive aspects of sand dunes, it is also necessary to remember the possible shortages of the chosen system. Sand dunes are natural creations, and though their features are usually not harmful to the environment, they can be rather inconvenient for people. For example, sand dunes can reduce the level of access to beaches. People have to walk more time than usual. People with children cannot allow reaching the beach without putting their physical conditions under threat. Dunes can also remove beaches, and the government has to think about the methods on how to restore the place for rest. At the same time, each region in Florida has its own peculiarities. For example, the Northeast Atlantic coast is the home for turtles and whales. It is normal for these creatures to have abrupt coastlines and some kind of fence against people. Central Atlantic Coast of Florida is the area where erosion develops fast, and beach dunes can protect the land. Beach dunes cause numerous debates in each region of Florida, and people are challenged by the necessity to make separate decisions instead of searching for one common effective solution.

Also, the choice of sand dunes should presuppose the loss of land. As it is a natural protective means, people cannot control its growth and spread. Dunes may be enlarged without any evident reasons, and people start losing their land that can be used for planting, building, or entertaining. It is impossible to predict the growth of sand dunes in a certain area. Therefore, the true effects of sand dunes on beaches turn out to be the main disadvantages due to their unpredictability.

Effectiveness of Man-Made Systems (Seawalls)

A seawall is a hard concrete construction made by people to protect against erosion, wave energy, and flooding. As a rule, such walls are used in many developing countries so that its citizens can be saved in case climate changes lead to an increase in sea level. Certain advantages and disadvantages can be identified to prove that the choice of this construction cannot be definite. People have to understand the sacrifice they are ready to make.

Advantages. One of the main benefits that can be observed in the construction of seawalls is its concrete material and the possibility to choose a form that is appropriate for an area. There can be an irregular surface with the help of which it is possible to reflect a wave’s direction. Vertical walls can be used to create hard protection with enough places for walks and advertisements. Besides, different materials can be used to create seawalls (Hanley et al., 2014). Revetments are frequently used in many countries.

There are many chances for Florida to get protection against erosion and flooding with the help of seawalls. New material is used for the creation of a line between water and the land. Such a fixed boundary is a good background for sightseeing and recreation. Its durable boundary is the reason for why the government chooses seawalls in comparison to other types of constructions. People can have access to water and enjoy comfort. There is no need to search for less dangerous places. As a rule, each meter of seawalls is safe and effective.

On the one hand, it is easy and interesting to observe the ocean. People can sit on special benches, communication, and enjoy nature. On the other hand, no erosion is observed because all vulnerable areas are under cover of the slabs of concrete. Finally, it is possible to admit that Florida citizens can obtain positive economic issues, like an increased number of working places connected with the construction of seawalls and the possibility to open new stores and shops close to water.

Disadvantages. The number of opportunities with seawalls is impressive indeed. However, it is also important to understand that the construction of seawalls may be characterized by certain financial, environmental, and even psychological shortages. In Florida, tourists come to enjoy nature and to spend their time close to the ocean. The majority of tourists are sick and tired of their city lives, and the main reasons for coming to Florida is the natural environment. It is hard to imagine the level of people’s disappointment when tourists observe concrete seawalls made by men instead of picturesque beaches, green trees, and freedom. Numerous negative emotions and some sort of disappointment and frustration may occur. Beachgoers are deprived of the opportunity to walk through the beach where water touches upon human legs stuck in the sand.

Besides, the high costs of construction should be mentioned. The government has to be ready to investigate its budget and think about the ways to protect the country’s economy. Certain attention should be spent on the analysis of wave energy and the amount of water spread to beaches. Seawalls aim at stopping waves. However, wave heights can be increased because of climate change and global warming.

Seawalls reflect waves (Kraus & McDougal, 1996). This reflection promotes turbulence that can influence the number of sediments and the increase in erosion threats. Scouring is another problem that has to be solved. Some seawalls are not appropriate for cleaning them regularly. Therefore, much time and effort should be spent to achieve positive results in cleaning the territory and find people and constructions to complete this task.

Seawalls are made by humans who cannot understand the true worth of the natural environment and its impact on habitat migration and existence. Hard defenses are not appropriate for planting native vegetation. Waste and fossil fuel emission occupy the beaches and deprive people of the opportunity to breathe in the fresh air and absorb oxygen.

Economic and Time Concerns of Implementing Systems

The example of Broward County (an area of the Southeast Atlantic coast of Florida) can be used to understand the financial aspect of dunes constructions. In 2012, there was a decision to replace sand. It was calculated that sand supply and labor required to perform this type of work cost approximately $41-$51 per cubic yard (Olsen Associates Inc., 2012). There are about 20,000 cubic yards to be replaced. In general, approximately $960,000 was required to complete this work and create appropriate sand dunes through the coastline. This work included everything from finding sand to the movement of all vehicles on the territory for several months. At the same time, the results of this work can be destroyed in several years because sand is in its flowing state, and it can be possible to say that money is thrown into the water.

The implementation of seawalls made by men is an expensive process, with the possibility to spend more than $10 million in half a year. This cost may include construction, temporary work, compensation events, delay, and HR activities. In less than one year, a plan for the creation of seawalls in Florida can be offered. For example, a concrete seawall may cost about $100 per linear foot. However, this is the price for the material only. About 80$ is required to install a riprap that is required to protect the land against erosion (Koch, 2010).

In general, the idea to use dunes and promote natural protections turns out to be economically and timely beneficial.

Ecological Concerns of Implementing Systems

The ecological concerns of implementing natural and man-made systems vary as well. Today, sand dunes are under threat of distinction due to such factors as urbanization, technological development, and conversion. People find it normal to damage and destroy beach dunes to support their personal and professional progress.

Therefore, it is necessary to improve an understanding of the role of sand dunes in society. Its ecological importance should be underlined regarding all coastal species and rehabilitation issues (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, 2015). The defense of the coastal environment and nature cannot be neglected. People should understand that there is not much place to be used for their connection to nature. If people decide to reject the idea of sand dunes on beaches, they deprive themselves of the opportunity to be saved and protected by nature.

Seawalls are characterized by evident ecological threats to society. This option supports the idea of technological development where no place for nature can be found. Concrete constructions and waste in water are the outcomes of seawalls in Florida. Tourists can hardly agree to visit the place and take rest where low attention to ecology is paid. From the ecological point of view, sand dunes gain more benefits in comparison to seawalls.

Conclusion

The review and analysis of sources on the problem of protecting the coastline of Florida from erosion processes indicate that there are two possible solutions to this issue. The first important option is the development of beach-dune systems as the nature-based solution, and the second option is the construction of seawalls which are actively used today in many countries to prevent flooding and erosion processes. Having analyzed specifics of the coastline in Florida and paying attention to such factors as environmental protection and costs, it is possible to state that the focus of the development of dune systems is the most sustainable solution which can be applied to address the problem in Florida.

It is important to note that beach dunes provide inhabitants of Florida’s coastline with more opportunities to develop. Also, the project associated with the support of beach-dune systems is viewed by the authorities as more attractive and feasible. This natural defense can be constructed easily, and it will not prevent the ecosystem of the shore from the further growth and development. On the contrary, the construction of such physical barriers as seawalls requires many resources, and its effects on the environment can be even negative. Therefore, the focus on the beach-dune systems can be discussed as a recommended solution to the identified problem.

References

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Florida’s economy still growing, but budget cuts still loom. (2017, March 17). U.S. News.

Giardino, A., De Boer, W., Den Heijer, K., Huisman, B., Mulder, J., & Walstra, D. J. (2013). Innovative approaches and tools for erosion control and coastline management. Joint EMECS, 10(1), 1-12.

Hanley, M. E., Hoggart, S. P., Simmonds, D. J., Bichot, A., Colangelo, M. A., Bozzeda, F.,… Trude, R. (2014). Shifting sands? Coastal protection by sand banks, beaches and dunes. Coastal Engineering, 87(1), 136-146.

Havens, K. (2015, March 16). Rising seas bring heavy burden to Florida coastal economy. Can it adapt? The Conversation.

Hudson, T., Keating, K., & Pettit, A. (2015). Delivering benefits through evidence: Cost estimation for coastal protection – summary of evidence.

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Williams, M. J. (2007). Native plants for coastal restoration: What, when, and how for Florida.

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